Panaramio Is Closing Its Doors: What Does That Mean for Your Next Investigation?

Note Oct/13/2016: Edited to clarify when the site is shutting down and when it simply cutting off photo uploads.

Panaramio, the photo sharing site by Google is officially closing its doors to uploads on November 4, 2016 and shuttering completely in November 2017. Panaramio is an amazing source of intelligence, from investigating incidents to geolocating photographs, it allows you to hone in on an area and browse through photos that were tagged for those particular locations.

While Panaramio is not as popular as Facebook, Twitter or the other major social media platforms for investigations, it still has a lot of utility. Acquiring photography surrounding the area of an incident has been proven to be useful countless times, as the folks at Bellingcat have shown numerous times.

Google has indicated that there will be some migration of photos to Google Maps, and that some of those migrations have already occurred. I am not a photography buff, I am more concerned with being able to get at the good data for investigations, as I am sure you are as well.

So what does this all mean for your next investigation?

A Brief Comparison

I decided to do a quick comparison of a small local area of mine to show the interface differences between the original Panaramio and what appears to be how we have to use Google Maps in the future.

Note below, in Panaramio, we can zoom into a local area and have it show us the location of where photos were tagged:

Panaramio for the University of Saskatchewan

This is extremely helpful, especially if you are investigating a crime or an incident in a specific location. We can just zoom in, and begin clicking around the area to determine if there are any photos that can help give us additional context.

Now let’s take a look at how Google Maps displays this information:

Google Maps With Local Photos — Red Arrows Are Mine

Ouch. Not a fan at all.

You need to click one of the photos at the bottom of the page which will draw a very faint line to the location of where that photo was taken. Now I could very well be missing a setting somewhere that makes it more Panaramio-like but I could not find it.

One saving grace is that you can zoom in very close to the area you are interested in and Google Maps will filter the photos shown so that only photos within the viewable map area will be shown.

However, if you want to see exactly where a photo was taken, you still have to click on the photo at the bottom and watch where the little line is drawn.

I sincerely hope that Google decides to give us that alternate view of the photos that is more in line with how the original Panaramio does it.

Wikimapia — A Great Alternative

While Google is busy shuffling photos from one platform to another, there is still a great alternative in Wikimapia. Wikimapia has a large user base that not only uploads photos to describe locations but also includes user content and comments about those locations.

You can also use the powerful filtering tools in Wikimapia to only display photos or locations of specific buildings, or institutions such as schools or churches.

Wikimapia View of the University of Saskatchewan

Even if Google Maps doesn’t do a great job of presenting geotagged photos like Panaramio had, Wikimapia is another great resource for doing this type of research. Make sure you are familiar with it so you have it handy in your investigation toolkit.

How Hunchly Can Help

If you have particular geographic regions that are you interested in or continually researching on Panaramio, Hunchly can help you save some content before it disappears. Just simply turn Hunchly on, and start browsing around the areas of interest. Hunchly has no problem capturing the map, the images in the sidebar and the large images once you have clicked on them. This is a great way to archive some of the data that you are after.

For the more adventurous you can also use the Panaramio API to download the images for you.

Questions? Comments? Leave them here or shoot me an email: justin@hunch.ly


If you don’t have Hunchly yet, you can grab a copy here.